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Barn Notes; Friday, November 29



What a fantastic start jockey James Graham has enjoyed during the opening days of the 2013-2014 season at Fair Grounds Racecourse & Slots!  Without question it’s the boldfaced buzz of the young season for the loyal guests of the Crescent City oval as well as its simulcast fans around the country.

Here’s the record:  Back-to-back wins on opening day for trainers Frank Leggio and Mike Stidham.  Four wins Saturday afternoon including both halves of the Daily Double for conditioners Andy McKeever and Wes Hawley, together with avictory in the first stakes race of the season aboard String King for owner-trainer-breeder Charlie Smith and concluding with his fourth winner astride a pick-up mount for owner-trainer Louie Roussel III, followed by another win for Stidham on the first Sunday of the session and a Thanksgiving Day riding double both horses for Hawley.

However, perhaps Graham’s most impressive win was the one on Thanksgiving Day astride Darlene Peterson’s Sweettalkin  Hottie who was passed by another mare inside the sixteenth pole but came on again for her nose tally in the last strides.

“I had to work pretty hard for that one,” admitted Graham on the morning after that Turkey Day program, “but she’s a tough old bird.  She always tries her best and it’s all about the horse.” 

Thursday didn’t start off that well for Graham.  In his first mount of the day he was aboard a horse that made the early pace but was trying to head for the outside fence.  The credit should go to the Irish-born reins master for keeping her on a relatively straight course.

“Yeah, that horse was trying to get out really bad all the way,” Graham said.  “Keeping that one going was a feat in itself.  It wasn’t the way I wanted to start off the day.”

Well, at least the day ended well for Graham, always the devoted family man to wife Lisa and children Hannah, soon to have her sixth birthday in December, son Christopher, 4, and 10-month-old baby girl Ella.

“We all went to (trainer) Bobby Springers for dinner after the races,” Graham said.  “We’ve been doing that for the last 10 years or so.  That’s what it’s all about – getting together with friends and family and really enjoying yourself.”

Graham has been runner-up in the Fair Grounds standings almost every season during the decade since he began riding locally. He boasts a riding title during the summer of 2011 at Arlington Park and was the leading money-winning rider at that Chicago oval last summer.  He also narrowly missed having the most winners there, but as a proven quality rider, Graham was fortunate enough to be asked to frequently ship out of town. 

Last fall at Keeneland, he had eight wins during that brief Lexington, Kentucky, session including a rail-skimming victory for trainer Danny Peitz aboard Shadwell Stable’s Najjaar in the Grade III Sycamore Stakes.

As for his fast Fair Grounds start, Graham was asked to summarize his feelings.

“It’s been great,” the 31-year-old native of Finglas, Dublin, said.  “I’ve been lucky opening week and hopefully we can let it continue to roll.  But every day is a new day in this game.”

AUSTRALIAN ROBERT GELLER GUEST ANNOUNCES THANKSGIVING DAY RACE AT FG. —Australian-born announcer Robert Geller, who grew up watching the races down under in his native Melbourne, announced one race at Fair Grounds on Thanksgiving Day as the guest of the New Orleans oval’s own long time announcer John G. Dooley.

Geller, who manned the microphones for the prestigious Hong Kong Jockey Club for almost a decade, came to the United States to become the track announcer at Emerald Downs for its 1996 inaugural season and has been the Washington State oval’s race caller since.

Geller also picked up announcer duties at Sunland Park beginning with that New Mexico track’s 2000-2001 meeting and has been there in that capacity since that time.

“I guess you could say I’m now the regular announcer for racing’s North-Southwestern circuit,” said Geller in dry tones following his guest appearance in New Orleans.

Dooley first met Geller in Chicago during the 2002 Breeders’ Cup hosted by Arlington Park, where Dooley also serves as the longtime race caller.